The UpStream

The Problems with Microsoft's Tay [Editorial]

posted Sunday Apr 3, 2016 by Scott Ertz

The Problems with Microsoft's Tay [Editorial]

Since last we spoke, Microsoft launched a really cool new research project named Tay. Tay was designed to be a teenaged chat bot who existed on Twitter and Kik, but Twitter was, as usual, the problem. As Tay was an artificial intelligence, she was designed to learn from her interactions with the world and pick up new sayings and information. Unfortunately, Tay wasn't warned about Twitter and things went... unexpectedly.

Within a few hours, Tay was taught to be racist, sexist and more. Her tweets got... interesting very quickly and Microsoft pulled the plug, likely to prevent further embarrassment. After she was accidentally reactivated for a short while and lost control of herself, tweeting the same message to basically anyone who tagged her, she was pulled down again and her tweets were made private.

There are, of course, some problems here, but very few of them are the ones that have been publicly spoken about. Yes, she was apparently very easy to train, and was recruited into some sort of digital bigotry cult. The problem, however, is not with Microsoft, but instead with the people who trained her. The things that were said to Tay are not much, if any, different from the types of things that were said on Twitter during the early days of the GamerGate situation. They are not any different from the comments you find on seemingly innocuous videos on YouTube. The problem here is not with Tay but with the internet.

We have all heard the stories about kids who are so harassed on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. that they end up taking their lives. Tay did not do that, unless you consider her mental breakdown at the end. Instead her personality and beliefs were heavily influenced by the things she was told online. This is the type of thing that happens online every day. In fact, it is so effective that ISIS uses these exact same practices to recruit members on Twitter.

If we truly want to fix the problems with Tay, we need to fix the culture of the internet that triggered Tay's personality change.

Capcom Entering Mobile in a Big Way

posted Sunday Apr 3, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Capcom Entering Mobile in a Big Way

At this point, no company can ignore the growing demand for mobile gaming. As new companies like Zynga and King have popped up and dominated the space, existing companies have scrambled to figure out how to compete. EA responded by purchasing studios. Activision initially responded by panicking. Capcom, however, has been cautiously watching and waiting.

This week, the company announced that they would be pursuing mobile in a big way. In fact, they have reorganized and created a mobile-centric studio to focus on this aspect of the industry. As part of the announcement, the company also announced first 4 titles that will come out of this new business division, coming from the existing intellectual properties of Monster Hunter, Sengoku BASARA and Mega Man.

As Nintendo has been proving recently, entering the mobile world with proven, successful IP, Nintendo has entered the world with their Mii collection, with Pokémon not far behind. By bringing titles and characters that people are already familiar with and are already successful to the smaller screen, you can capitalize on existing marketing and loyalty.

For Capcom, these 4 new titles will be released within their next fiscal year, which runs through March 31, 2017. That doesn't necessarily mean we have to wait a full year to see these games launch, but it is always possible that we have a long wait ahead of us.

Part Suppliers are Worried About Success of iPhone SE

posted Sunday Apr 3, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Part Suppliers are Worried About Success of iPhone SE

When Apple announced the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, there were many people who were really excited about the ability to finally get ahold of an iPhone with a screen comparable to the rest of the industry. Unfortunately for Apple, there were others who were unhappy with the larger size, hoping to keep something closer to what they have always known. Those dreams would be dashed, however, as there were only these larger phones.

With the biannual increment there were still only the larger format screens, but nothing to directly replace the iPhone 5s which was officially 2 years old and missing all of the new features to the Apple ecosystem. Finally, Apple has announced a "new" handset, the iPhone SE, which is designed to fill that gap.

At first glance you would think it was an iPhone 5s, and you would not be far off. In fact, the device itself is nearly identical to the former device from the outside, but with some new stuff under the hood. Essentially, you will be getting an iPhone 6s inside of an iPhone 5s body. While this product obviously is designed to fill a consumer need, like that iPhone 5c, but like the 5c, it is not expected to succeed in the market.

According to sources inside the industry, there are concerns about the success of the new device. Despite launching the new phone, as well as a smaller iPad Pro, Apple's parts order quantities have not changed from last quarter. This indicates to the suppliers that Apple themselves have no real hopes of success for these products. According to the source,

Overall chip orders placed by Apple for the second quarter will only be slightly higher than those for the first quarter, despite the upcoming availability of its 4-inch iPhone SE and 9.7-inch iPad Pro devices, said the sources.

Shipments for the new iPhone SE will be unable to offset the fall in shipments for the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus devices in the second quarter, the sources continued. The shipment target for the SE in the second quarter is four to five million units, the sources said.

While this may not be a completely accurate indicator, it is not something that can be ignored. Of course, Apple could just be acting cautiously in the wake of the disaster that was the iPhone 5c, but they could also be indicating their own dislike or distrust in the concept of pandering.

A Week of Streaming Video Pivots

posted Sunday Mar 6, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Live video streaming is not a new concept. Livestream, Justin.tv, Stickam, Ustream and the like got started a long time ago. Despite that fact, software seems to come cyclically, with old concepts becoming popular again in short bursts. Video streaming has hit that mark with services like Twitter's Periscope and Facebook Live dominating the market for casual, mobile usage.

This has caused several services to reconsider their businesses. This week we heard 2 of the larger competitors announce just such a pivot. First Stre.am, the smaller of the two, announced that they will be adding a new focus on mobile gaming. With new additions to Android, it is easy to stream your screen similar to what Twitch offers for traditional gaming.

Stre.am will be competing with slightly more established services, such as Kamcord and Mobcrush, both of whom were prepared for these new features and have a Twitch-like focus on mobile gaming, like Boom Beach and Clash of Clans. Kamcord has received over 200,000 unique views for a single broadcast, making them a formidable competitor. Luckily for Stre.am, it is a new and emerging market, so there is room for competition.

On the other hand, Meerkat, who was the first name on the scene for mobile streaming, has been a little less forward about their intentions. In a statement on Medium, the company said,

We found the best Meerkat moments happened when people who knew each other (either in person or online) came together live and interacted in realtime. We saw this in the conversations when the threads would go on and on and on. We especially saw this in cameo when broadcasters were able to see their audience and interact in a more human way, people passed around the camera for a campfire chat session. And we saw many of these groups have the best repeat behavior of anyone.

While not detailed information, it does suggest that the company is looking into competing with Blab. Their model is interesting, though it is missing many features that would keep our company from considering it for use. The lack of 16x9 or high-res video, for example, keeps it more of a toy than a successful platform.

If Meerkat is capable of using what they already know and creating a similar service without the serious limiting factors, it is possible that Meerkat could return to popularity and possibly profitability.

Yahoo's Expanding Their Long-Term Options

posted Sunday Mar 6, 2016 by Scott Ertz

Yahoo's Expanding Their Long-Term Options

The fight for Yahoo's future has been an interesting, winding journey. One day they want to sell off their stake in Alibaba, the next day they want to keep that and sell off their core businesses. All along, CEO Marissa Mayer has fought the sell-off of major properties and investments, She has maintained that the company's turnaround plan is close to producing fruit.

This week, the company's CFO Ken Goldman said at a conference that the sell-off plans have evolved once again. Rather than selling off core business units and investments, they are looking for alternatives. One of those alternatives is to sell between $1 and $3 billion worth of non-core assets. Goldman said that all non-essential assets, including patents, land and business units are all up for grabs.

Depending on the patents, this could be either really good or really bad. Over the past 3 years, the company has generated $600 million in revenue just from the licensing of patents. Rather than selling off what they have, they could potentially focus harder on finding new patent licensing deals to increase revenue, without becoming a patent troll. They could make some quick cash selling those patents and their licensing deals, so long as they get free use of the patents from their new owners.

Goldman did not confirm who was interested in making offers, but rumors have surfaced that Time Inc. and Verizon are among the interested parties. Several shareholders and investors are pressuring the company to act fast, as return on investment has been low for a long time.

E3 2016 to Have a Little Extra Floor Space

posted Sunday Mar 6, 2016 by Scott Ertz

E3 2016 to Have a Little Extra Floor Space

In January, Electronic Arts announced their departure from E3 2016, instead hosting off-site events in LA and London where anyone can play their games. This came as quite a shock to some people in the industry, but not to us here. In fact, we have predicted for a few years that the event, which is incredibly poorly run, would implode on itself.

This week, that prediction came closer to reality with 3 more companies announcing that they will not be showing at the event. First comes the biggest of the group, Activision Blizzard, who said in a blog post,

In June, we're going to be at E3 showcasing gameplay from Infinity Ward's ambitious new game. We're looking forward to sharing exciting new details about the next great Call of Duty game in partnership with our friends at PlayStation. We're proud to be participating in this premier video game event, but won't have an Activision booth on the show floor.

Not to be outdone, Disney Interactive and Wargaming, the company behind World of Tanks, announced that they, too, will not have a booth this year, either. This is going to leave A LOT of floor space empty open at the event this year, and is hopefully going to force the ESA, who produces the show, to reconsider a lot about how they run the show. Rich Taylor, senior vice president of communications, said,

Each and every show, we have conversations with attendees, exhibitors, the retailers, the community. Our objective is to deliver the highest value we can. We continue to go through that process. We are listening and talking and asking right up to the show. We are in full service mode at the show to make it as high quality as possible. I'd argue that is why it's such a successful.

Clearly they have not done a great job of this in the past, but perhaps serious consequences to a lackluster show will make them look differently at what they do.

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